An article about discipline in church-run schools in Ireland appeared in a newspaper report in the late 1960s. In it, the journalist wrote about a pupil from Artane Industrial School, who had recently become emotionally disturbed and had been kept under sedation in the School infirmary. Despite this fact, he was punched in the stomach by a Brother as he came out of the toilets that morning. The boy also said the nun in the infirmary kept a cane there. The journalist went to the School to confront the Brother Superior about the matter. The journalist wrote this account of the meeting: “Brother, is it true that Delmar39 punched Michael40 in the stomach last week?” Brother Gilles41 moves the papers about on his desk, nibbles a biscuit. “Sure, I asked Brother Delmar about it this morning. He says he can’t recollect punching Michael at all.” “Could that be because he punches so many boys that he can’t recollect this particular instance?” Brother Gilles looks sideways at me and giggles, leans back in his chair, twiddles his thumbs and does not reply. “Is it true, what Michael says, that the nun keeps a cane in the infirmary?” “I couldn’t say,’ says Brother Gilles. ‘It’s news to me.” “But you’re in charge here, aren’t you? Surely you must know what goes on?” “I really couldn’t say.”
The Assistant Secretary replied as follows: Dear Br Gilles, Thank you for your letter ... concerning [the journalist’s] visit to Artane and [the] subsequent article ... I hasten to assure you that my verbal request to you through Mr. Wade for your version of [the] visit was entirely for the record and was not intended to imply that the Department was testing the veracity of [the] account. It was obvious that [the] account was biased, tendentious and in parts highly improbable. However I had to compile a record of all the cases mentioned in the article and a note from you was necessary to complete that record. It is highly regrettable that the Reformatory and Industrial School system should be the subject of so much ill-informed and malicious attack. The difficulty in dealing with the problem is that it is not always possible to identify those responsible or to be sure of the motivation which inspires the attack. The ignorant and the malicious, like the poor, we have always with us.
The main interest of this article is that it made an allegation that a Brother in whose care the boy had been placed punched the boy in the stomach. Mr O’Neill had found the boy retching, brought him to the infirmary when he returned the boy to the School, and made an appointment with the Resident Manager. The man was clearly very concerned. While a doctor was called and he found no marks on the boy’s stomach, the key allegation, that a Brother had punched him, was not investigated. The overwhelming concern in the correspondence was for the reputation of the Institution and the insult sustained by Br Gilles. The Department dismissed the complaint in the article out of hand, and merely sought the Manager’s response ‘to complete the record’.